Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Choices, choices

... lunch in the Windjammer ...
Alex liked to eat at the edge of the dining room, trying to choose a table for four so that we could look out and see the port side of the ship. I learned to love the infrastructure of the docks while cruising with Mary who showed me how technical and complicated that area can be.

... a lovely day walking the pavement ...
Of course I loved going into the centre of the cities where we docked as well. There was always a square with a fountain, a monument to local explorer or traders, touristic shops and hawkers with magnets, scarves, jewellery and post-cards.

... my relatives under police escort ...
How did I get a picture of Alex and Moiya being escorted by the police? Moiya stopped to buy something for her kitchen: a cheese knife. That was counted as a dangerous item when she went through customs and she had to be escorted to the ship, where it was placed in a safe spot for her and she was able to pick it up when we left the cruise. The cheese knife was stored with the alcohol that other people brought on board and could also pick up at the end of the cruise. I was breathlessly dancing along behind Moiya and Alex, trying to get my camera out of its pouch and take a picture of this event.


Appetizer: crostini and tapenade

The cruise directors have been know to refer to the food on the boat as eating at feeding frenzy: breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, then lunch, then a mid-afternoon snack, and that is followed by a 3 course meal in the evening.
Surf and Turf -- with bechamel sauce

If a person isn’t full by then, there are three restaurants open 24 hours a day on the mall that runs the length of a football field. Should I have run out of possible choices with all of the above, there are specialty restaurants that can be booked.
Curried Pumpkin Soup

Wyona was reading one food blog where a person ate every meal on-board, using only the specialty facilities, and they still didn’t run out of places to go.
 ... lamb curry ...

If I was running late for dinner and the others went ahead of me, it was easy to send my order ahead of time with them. For me, it is a no brainer. If lamb is on the menu, I am going to take it: lamb shank, lamb curry, leg of lamb, ... hot and then some mint sauce on the side.
Profiteroles ... a new dessert to me ... Wyona always asks 'Are they fresh?' 
They are.

Yum, to the side event of being on a cruise and neither having to shop, cook, serve or clean-up. 

What a delicious way to live.

Fighting Fear

  Photo Credit:  David Alfred Wood 
"Lost Lake"
This morning we were talking about fears and Rebecca remembered being on the catamaran, in the middle of the lake, no paddle, no wind, and her mother trying to feed her tomatoes sprinkled with a little salt.  That image is associated with being lost and still brings a whiff of fear into her every time she eats tomatoes with salt.

The words "Lost Lake" also bring fear to her. What could be more permanent in a child's mind than being with uncles and cousins at a place called lost.  No matter how many people were around, she said, she always knew they were truly lost.  I have never been to Lost Lake, I told her.  I was always staying at home with a baby. 

Maybe next year!  At any rate, nice picture David!  Moiya gave it to me before she left for the Shuswap yesterday.

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Look For This Blog?

It's been a while since we first set up this blog.

Is there any appetite for changing the design, perhaps go to a three column design or add some additional elements?

Sunday, January 29, 2012


The sweet stalls ... Row B, seats 0 and 1
Duncan and I had tickets for Shrek this week.   

The theatre is a short two stop busride away from Charing Cross Station.   

Just cross the street and take any bus that is moving down the Strand.  

Alight at Alwych and walk back a street until you see the big green S in neon lights.

With tickets in hand, we entered the theatre.   

The initial curtain is green, grass green, or more Shrek-swamp-grass-green.   

Our tickets were in the second row, on the side.  

 ...spiffiest swamp in town ...
We didn’t think seats could get any better than the box seats we had the previous week, but being seated just a few feet away from the stage has its own charm.
We watched the musicians come into the pit, and we could hear them warming up their instruments, the sound coming out of the grate just in front of us.  

We had our treats in plastic bags, already unwrapped so as not to bother any of the other patrons sitting beside us.

Shrek is a well know story to kids who grow up with the DVD in their homes.  

 ...dance number ... done in plastic-like costumes ...
The jokes that are made around the fairy-tale creatures who have been cast out of the kingdom and land up inhabiting the swamp are hilarious.  

And it was not lost on Duncan and me, that the theatre itself is on Drury Lane,  just as Drury Lane is also the place where the muffin man lives, at least in the song that we sing about him.

The character, Shrek, is large and green and fun.   
Perhaps the highlight of the show is the song where Fiona and Shrek try to out flatulate each other – a remarkable piece of stage work.
... and that princess is me ...

Hard not to love the signs that are outside of the theatre. 

Since there is no opportunity to take pictures inside, it is good to use the marquees and the billboards as backgrounds for souvenir pictures.

Gotta love the fact that there is a new princess in the swamp!



...be prepared to learn this dance from the grandmothers at the lake in 2012...
On sea days Moiya, Wyona and I are looking for something to do.

In the ship’s daily newspaper called the Compass I read, Come and learn to dance the Thriller. 

On the list of things to choose that I call “Things I Might Not Do Otherwise”, that item was in the top three. Wyona and I were on the dance floor for the first lesson and Moiya joined us for the second lesson. 

We should have known something was unusual when the dance directors wanted to know our stateroom phone numbers and when we were handed out two pages of instructions about the dance moves. At the end of the second lesson they said that the Thriller dance number was going to be peformed before one of the evening events called the Quest, and that we would be getting front seats in payment for our performance.

That is when Moiya and about 8 others of the dancers went to the side saying we/they were opting out. The cruise staff are adept at twisting arms and giving positive feed back: don’t worry, we will be in the front line for you to follow; no one will be noticing you through the smoke and strobe lights; people who have done this before on other ships have said the performance was one of their cruise highlights.

This didn’t seem possible to me. In the first place, I had been on a previous cruise and the participants that time had been given 5 hours of practise, not the 3 that our shortened cruise had assigned for the dance practise. I told Wyona the next morning that I couldn’t sleep all night, waking all night to practise in my mind all of the phrases I could remember – boogie to the left, boogie to the left, swim, swim, turn to the thriller pose, etc., imaging where my feet would be going. She laughed and said she was having nightmares – that she was mad at the cruise dance directors because they had changed the steps and so she had mutinied and got a group of the other dancers to agree with her that they would do it the old way ... against the wishes of the instructors.

Jewellery compliments of Seattles Best Coffee Shoppe
In real life, Moiya was absolutely OUT – with every excuse in the world. She folded (but just barely) to group pressure and stayed in, if she were to be allowed the middle spot in the chorus line-up, – thinking that there she would be hidden the most from the view of the audience.

Alex came to the pre-performance practise – in the ice rink where a floor slips over the ice so that there is a place for dancing and for the quest events that were to follow. 

Alex filmed us on the video of Wyona’s camera – a clip worthy of u-tube.

Here is the problem for the three of us – we know no Michael Jackson songs – not even Thriller, nor have we watched the Thriller videos. 

3 of Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas most talented dancers
As Moiya whispered to me weeks later, “Why would I have the lyrics to any of the Jackson tunes in my mind. Twenty years ago I put that music in the category of wickedness that I should never listen to."

The three of us persisted on board, practising our moves in the cabin, pre and post breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

When we reached the point of the final choreographic touches to the dance (a place none of us thought the others would reach) Wyona was identified as a confident looking dancer and assigned a place in the back of the line – which at one point turns into the front of the line -- an assignment that made her shoulders slump and her feet stamp a bit and her head shake in disbelief, but what could she do? Look confident! The reward is front line billing – at least when the back line turns into the front and the front to the back.
Move on a few weeks – to yesterday. Wyona left Woodside Lane for Calgary. Moiya and I left Woodside Lane for downtown London, wondering which of the yet unseen West End Musicals we could add to our agenda. We slipped into the theatre where Thriller is staged, not believing that we would get a ticket since Wyona has been there many times and she had never been able to get tickets. But the stars were in alignment – we got producer tickets, right in the middle of the theatre, about 8 rows from the front for the very cheap price of £32.50. We warmed up to the ambiance we could feel in the crowd in the first part of the show, though we napped a bit. I turned to her and asked, “Moiya? Do you know any of the songs. Ever heard “Dirty Diana” or “Bad” before?”

“Nope,” she said. “We seem to be the only ones in the theatre that are hearing these words for the first time. We are listening cold. The rest of the audience is hot – look at them silently mouthing the words along with the singers.”

After the intermission we were changed. Perhaps it was the Pepsi we drank. But we were actually, entranced. I wonder at this moment what the word transmogrified means, for that word pops into my mind about us. The lyrics, the dancing, the miming, the band, the gymnastics, the costuming, -- magical moments on stage. A fantastic show. Following the audience’s wild clapping and cheering at the end of the show, the cast did a reprise – many more numbers – among them, the Thriller song and the moves that Moiya and I had learned on the boat. People in the boxes were standing, their bodies swaying, doing all of the steps that the cast was doing on stage. Moiya joined in, doing the moves we had learned on the boat, her feet stamping and her hands clapping – the deadman walk, the steps where the head and shoulder meet to simulate a tick, the lion pose – I was crying, I was laughing so hard watching her.

Image from Website

Moiya wants me to mention that Thriller is not really a show with a plot. All they do is play Michael Jackson songs which are both sung and choreographed. There is a child who comes onstage at first, singing one of Jackson’s earlier songs. And there is another figure that looks like Jackson as an older performer ... but no plot line ... just the songs.

On the way home in the subway, we began to plan our costuming which is going to go over the top the next time we get on a boat and there is a chance to perform the Thriller dance. 

In fact, we were five long tube stops past the place we should have alighted to get the Northern Line home by the time we stopped our conversation and tried to think of how we were going to get home. Moiya was right. There is mortal danger in being Michael Jacksonized. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cruise to the Canary Islands

Don’t answer the phone after midnight.  That is what Wyona said to Moiya last night.  Wyona does her searches for good cruise deals after midnight.  I answer the phone after the twelve bells had tolled to hear her say, would you rather go on a cruise around England, stopping in at many ports, or one to the Baltic.  Going to the Baltic was a no brainer for me, I told her and that is how I woke up in the morning, going on my first cruise, and how I discovered myself walking along the streets of St. Petersburg, 10 days later.

Moiya had a similar experience.  She answered the phone after midnight, and was on a plane 24 hours later, joining us for our trip to the Canary Islands the day after that.  Steve had upgraded our room from an inside cabin to a balcony so that Alex could come along with us.  That opened up another bed and Wyona picked up the phone after midnight to ask Moiya to join us.

There is a sense of adventure in Wyona.  We didn’t take any of the port destination trips that are offered to passengers.  Instead we get off of the boat, Wyona finds someone who can speak English, asks them for a good local bus route to take, one that we can use to go to a destination and then walk back to the ship.  That is how we found ourselves walking along a small side street, Moiya and Alex in a grocery store buying pop, and Wyona and me strolling the avenue looking at churches, statues, the design on pavements, and the graffiti on buildings.  I had stopped to look at a quickly painted political statement on the side of a building about democracy, probably inspired by the trauma of the long dictatorship under Franco, and Wyona went back to see what was taking the shoppers so long.  When she didn’t come back, I, too, wandered back, to find her sitting on a chair, surrounded by 8 locals, all of whom looked worried, and a couple of clerks were standing there, one with a phone in her hand. Wyona was pale and disoriented. “Have you fallen again,” I asked.  “Oh, does she speak English?  We thought she spoke French,” said one of the onlookers. I looked quizzically at a small old woman who was standing by her own shopping cart and she looked back at me right in the eye, but speechless, though she was intoning the musical fifth, doh/soh, doh/soh, doh/soh, over and over, which lead me to believe an ambulance was on its way.

Having had a number of on-ship discussions with Moiya and Wyona about the high cost of medical treatment abroad, I said to Wyona, “There is an ambulance on its way.”  She put out her arms, stood slowly and said, “Look, I am OK.  I am OK.  Call the ambulance back.  I am leaving right now and walking down this street.  Thank you everyone for your help.  I am going to be OK. ”S he limped back up the street, the by-standers shaking their heads.

“Alright, Wyona, what just happened there?”

“I was going into the store and tripped over the step that leads up into the store.  I did a face plant.  The clerks saw me.  I got up and leaned on the wall outside, but when I did, I knew I was going down, so I slipped down the wall to the ground. I had taken a really hard fall. A clerk saw me and brought a chair and put me on it.  That is where you found me.  I needed to sit there for a bit.  There was no way I was going in an ambulance, so I got up and started walking, telling everyone I was OK.  Who was around me?”

“As far as I could tell, only Spanish speakers and you must have uttered a bit of French to them, for they thought that is what you spoke.”  Wyona can flesh out her story when she gets on the blog – sufficient to say her energy level dropped for a few days until some healing occurred.  She was back on her feet and into the markets again when Moiya missed a step going down reconstructed the same fall, letting her elbow and knee act as part of her 3-point landing that she bounced from, rolling into a position of being prostrate on the ground.  Suddenly I was on the outside of a circle of 10 people gathered around her, asking her if she was alright. What is wrong with this picture, I asked myself later.  I have my eyes on architectural details while my siblings are contending with each other for who can come away with the biggest bruises and contusions. Moiya has the perfect thing to say from the ground.  “I am fine.  I just need a minute to sit here and collect my senses.”  But everyone stands around for that minute to watch and Moiya isn’t in for that kind of spotlight and scrambled as quickly as she could to her feet, all the while someone saying, “I am not stalking you, I am helping, I am a nurse,  I am going to watch you for minute to see that you are OK.”  How sweet was that?   

So at night, when the shows are over, those two compare the colour of their bruises and the pain level of their stretched muscles, and I sit there determining to hold tight to the banisters on every staircase, and to keep my eyes more on the gutters than on the eaves troughs around me.


Image by Manuel Harlan
We are in London with only two days left before Moiya and Wyona leave for the Americas (read Alberta and British Columbia) again.  

Wyona is the walking encyclopaedia of times, dates, prices and current lists of West End musicals. 

She knows the days that matinees are held, when there are concessions and which actors have moved from one venue to star at another. 

Yesterday she called from the centre of the city asking if anyone here at Woodlane would be interested in going to Roald Dahl’s Matilda.  

“Tickets can’t be found half price,”, she reported. “There are only two seats available tonight, box seats, a bit cheaper because at one point your box will be filled with singers doing one of their choruses from your space ... prices for the shows are going up by six pounds in the next few days, are you in or out.”
That is how Duncan and I found ourselves walking along the street in a light mist of evening rain, making our way to the Cambridge Theatre at Seven Dials to see Matilda.  We had found a small utube clip of the show the night before, and learned the lyrics of one of the songs:  ‘when I grow up’.   That was our only bit of pre-performance preparation.  A good song to know:  ... when I grow up / I will eat sweets every day on the way to work / And I will go to bed late.  That was my childhood dream as well, though mine was, I will stay up until the TV goes off every night.  Of course, that was in the days when the TV programming really did end about 1 am.
Oh, there is always other preparation that goes on to get the theatre ... a trip to Tesco to buy six kinds of candy for the evening, getting the treats into zip-lock baggies to prevent theatre noise pollution of the unwrapping of sweets, a stop at a local news stand to buy a cold drink, that final sprint around the house to find Duncan’s bus pass.  “I remember now.  Rebecca always keeps it at the front door,” Duncan said, after we had looked everywhere else.

And now for our review of the musical.  The standing ovation at the end of the show of all of the audience is all that needs to be said.  Small wonder that the producers can raise the price when other shows in the West End are going down.  We were part of a full house enjoying complicated cultural themes – the British school system gone awry, blended family constellations (where name calling is the norm), bullying by peers and teachers, the  imaginative escape of awful conditions through story and fantasy.  All of that and still a wonderfully entertaining show with the singing and dancing talent  found in all of the cast, but especially fun to watch in the child actors who are about one half of their numbers.
Mrs. Trunchbull, the principals, is played by a man.  Before bed, I was telling Wyona that the female character was constructed in a remarkably dignified way –not with mockery of the female form that I sometimes see in one style of that performance, but more in the style of the grandmother in the most recent production of The Importance of Being Ernest, that I saw in Calgary at the HD Live production that came out of the London Theatre a couple of years ago (and that I also got to see live, on stage when I was there). 

Just before he was leaving for school this morning, Duncan and I were discussing that character, since Duncan had laughed so hard at the Phys-Ed episode where Mrs. Trunchbull had jumped on a trampoline and then flown right over the box horse and landed on a mat.  I said to Duncan, “You might not have known it, but the part of Mrs. Trunchbull was played by a man.”  He nodded his head and said, “I kind of knew it by the voice and because a large woman couldn’t be that flexible.  Did you see how high she could raise her leg?”  

Going to shows with grandchildren is one of the backpack of my acknowledged and probably unearned privileges.  I say unearned because I do minimal care-giving for them, and get maximum leisure time in return.  I do it in Calgary at the HD New York Met performances, in London at the West End theatre and in Salmon Arm at the Sturgess North Biker Fesitval and Roots and later in the month to the Blues Festival.   

When the performers came to our box to sing, they slipped in so silently that Duncan and I didn’t know they had entered and were standing right behind us.  When Duncan heard their voice at our backs, his bottom rose right out of his seat.  He ducked his head and pretended they weren’t there.  I keptmy eyes trained on them, thinking with a swelling heart while listening to the close harmonies in my ear,  “Hundreds of people in the theatre and I get to have this happen to me.”  And I pay less for the priviledge.

Later, the noise generated by the explosion of confetti that sprinkled down from the ceiling falling over people in the stalls below, originated from our box. And then angular beams of light criss-crossed the ceiling and walls and both of us were wondering where we should duck so they didn’t slice through us. As an added bonus, the monitor that shows the actors the face and arms of the conductor was right above our heads, and Duncan was mesmerized at points with her face and arms and not watching the show at all.

 Before the curtain fell, and totally engaged with the theatre Duncan, gave me a whack on my arm to show me how to clap my hands along with the performers, by then.  Duh! to a grandmother who has to be shown that.

At the end of the evening, I thought back to Duncan’s mantra to me, on the way to the theatre: “Why are you always taking me places I don’t want to go, Grandmother?”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Oranges for Dessert

Many years ago when I was naive, lacked understanding and knowledge of the amount of work required to complete certain types of work, I had just finished eating a meal at my Aunt Arta and Uncle Kelvin's house.  Arta does not just serve a meal, she coordinates a feast.  Be in Indian food, turkey dinner, a concoction of salads (couscous, greens, etc), or other assortments of themed delights, she is a host of the culinary arts.  At the end of dinner I asked where dessert was (re-read post's first sentence now).  Arta looked at me and said there was none.  I laughed then said of course there was dessert, there was always dessert.  Arta stood up, walked to her fridge, moved her body about, then returned to the table and plunked an unpeeled orange down in front of every person at the table.  I laughed again (re-read first sentence of post again).  I asked her a second time where the REAL dessert was.  She laughed and told me that the orange was dessert, sat down, began to peel her orange.  I remember being confused because at my house growing up we always had dessert and here, in this house, there was none?  How odd.

Over the years, as I have matured, I have come to know that my mother is a baker of delightful goodies and others are cookers of delightful savoury things (caveat: my mother can cook sweet and savoury in all its delights, but she shines while desserting).  Not everyone eats dessert.  Arta is not a dessert person.  I am.  Many jokes and teasings have been made over the years by both of us about dessert, oranges and the like.

Fast-forward to 2012 as I read for my thesis.  I am working within a framework called Serious Leisure Perspective, a series of concepts developed over 40 years by a University of Calgary based sociologist, Robert Stebbins (or as my recent quantitative sociology statistics professor put it this last term, "Old Bobby Stebbins?!  He is a well-known leisure researcher?!?  Really?!?"  Yep, very much so).  Reams and reams of researchers have built on his work about serious leisure and in the 2010's more is being completed.

As I am reading one of his many books titled, Serious Leisure: A Perspective For Our Time, I come across this as a book summary:

"Let us think, for a moment, of the serious leisure perspective as resembling a serving of Bananas Foster.  Serious Leisure [the banana] is the central ingredient in this confection, which however, is greatly enhanced with the complementary ingredients of rum, salt butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, banana liqueur, and vanilla ice cream...All this prepared to perfection in a flambĂ© pan, where the rum serves as fuel for the fire that cooks the bananas, themselves bathed, as they are, in a sauce prepared from the aforementioned ingredients.  In metaphor or in real life, the bananas alone (serious leisure) are insufficient to constitute this dessert.  Rather it needs for its completion and perfection the other ingredients...for an optimal leisure lifestyle.  Such a lifestyle is Bananas Foster, exquisitely prepared.  Serious leisure is enhanced and blended with judicious amounts of appealing [forms of] leisure...Bananas Foster, sans bananas, is just not Bananas Foster.  Every New Orleanian knows that."

As I taunt my Aunt Arta once again about oranges for dessert sans toppings, perhaps I have not grown up that much at all.  Then again, next time we are in the same city perhaps we shall share in the making of Bananas Foster, a New Orleanian dessert I have never tried.

Picture and recipe from Joy of Desserts and More! blog

Bananas Foster   
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
8 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup banana liqueur
9 ounces dark rum

She melted the butter in a skillet, (you could also use a chafing dish), then added the brown sugar. Stir until it melts. Then in went the bananas to saute for about 3 minutes on each side. She sprinkled cinnamon and poured the alcohol over the bananas. Once the alcohol is warm (you can't light cold alcohol), carefully light it with a match or lighter. Gently tilt the flaming sauce to baste the bananas until the flames die out when all the alcohol has burned off. Serve hot immediately, over ice cream.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cruisers are off again....

Well.... on Friday, Arta and Wyona arrived at Heathrow airport, their bags ready to go for their next scheduled cruise [no... i do NOT know what number this one is!].  I expected to enjoy their company for the weekend, and then send them on their way on Tuesday morning, knowing that they would have 12 days of fine dining before returning to the more pedestrial fare chez the Carter-Johnsons. 

Because life around here is always something of an adventure, the group heading off to the cruise ship this morning was somewhat bigger:  Arta, Wyona, Moiya and Alex.  What was once a room for 2 will now be a room for 4!!!!   I can't believe i didn't get a photo of group heading off down the street this morning (with the assistance of Steve), a veritable parade of rolling suitcases!

Don't know how much feedback we will get along the way, but stay tuned for reports from the cruisers, both experienced and novice!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Walk through Whetstone and Totteridge

Kiwi in need of a foot bath ... at the very least
 "You really have to love your dog to want to give it a shower after its walk in the park," I said to Duncan.

"Oh, yes, we do love that dog," replied Duncan, as Steve had her bundled up and was carrying her up the stairs for a good cleaning.

waiting for Steve to catch up
 The walk with the dog had taken us down small paved paths, through Woodside Lane and into High Barnett Place. Steve was using the ball thrower to give the dog a good run on the heath.  A small creek wound its way beside us, reminding me of the creek that winds through Centennial Park.

can you spot the piper?
 The music of a single bagpipe practicing a solitary tune was in the air.

Steve claimed what we could hear was a husband, banished from his house, consoling himself in the woods.

When we got closer I could see it was a person in their late teens, his music pinned up against a tree, and his left foot tapping, keeping strict time, his lungs keeping the pipes full of air as he practised.

Four pm and where did the sun go?

a crisis in capitalism?  who knew?

Duncan noted that a walk is problematic. First we are cold, but after a few short blocks,someone in our party begins to shed, first the scarf, then the first layer of coat, then off comes the fleecy, then back on goes the coat.

So hard to adjust the speed of walking, to the amount of moisture in the air, and the heat the body needs to keep warm. We are too near the solstice to get good daylight pictures after 4 pm. The sun is there and then suddenly it is gone.

Rebecca is refusing to take Duncan and Alex to Les Mis until they know some of the songs ... to becontinued after the now immanent grocery run ....


Keep Walking

"Keep walking. Keep walking. We have only begun and we have a long way to go."

Those are the words Wyona kept uttering at the top of Portobello Antique Market, urging us not to stop too long at any one shop. Rebecca and Wyona warmed themselves with sips of mulled and spiced apple cider. Wyona flipped through scarves -- pashmina, pashmina and wool blends, and all of the new styles, which the shop keepers assured us were the very last ones they had.

I wandered from one side of the street to another, charmed by the antique toast holders and crumb scoopers, which I never intend to buy.  There were old volumes of books, and maybe the piece de resistance, children's toys -- frogs and snakes that could be slapped on the ground and then would crawl away.  We have viewed them enough to know that when children play with them, they leave grease spots on walls, and pick up any sand or gravel that they hit on the ground, making them useless in about five minutes.  Better we should just buy scarves.

Rebecca had found red gloves the day before -- at a second-hand thrift shop, of which there are five on her own High Street here in Woodside Park -- one supporting the North London Hospice, and ones for Bernardo's Homes, Romanian Relief Fund, Heart and Stroke Foundation -- a cause for all. These are the gloves she has been searching for in the previous months, trying on pairs in every glove shop in France. Nothing like second-hand success in your own neighbourhood.

She is photographing the displays in a store that has models of old sewing machines in the windows and on its walls, even though we were told to view as we walked through Portobello Market.

The Boxing Day Special

... if one is good, two are better ...
Matiram was at the electronics store at 6 a.m., waiting for a Boxing Day deal.  I was out walking the mall at the same time, enjoying the two line-ups of early morning shoppers.

When Mati was done he had two cameras -- a large one and then a pocket sized one -- just the size I have been looking for.

So I  have a small camera now, a Canon SX220, just the right size for slipping into my pocket when I go on day trips.

I love my big camera.

Carrying it all day is too much work for just a few shots.  Now I have a new manual to read while a enjoy the winter days in London.

I noticed a pink blossom on today's walk -- one that blooms right of the branch of a tree.  I have no name for the flower and no picture, since reading my manual is my job for tomorrow.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Nutcracker

Adam Maskell as the all-dancing Knickerbocker Glory
... the set design is ... yes ... a mouth ... 

and yes, that is the uvula hanging down!

I am a fan of film, opera, and musical theatre. Ballet has never been high on my list of places I like to go to first.

Today I saw Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker at Sadler Wells, a stage built for dance. The ballet was two hours.

It seemed to be a lifetime in terms of enjoyment. The costuming brought on a motorcycle gang, a Dali-esque dancing couple, a pair of clumsy winged angels in blue plaid pyjamas, a romantic couple who leaped in and out of a rose-hearted silhouette, a classroom of kids in a boarding school – some of whom had to be pushed out on the stage, and others in the same school, ready for any kind of action.

We spent the afternoon going down Portobello Street, looking at the antique market, buying schnitzel (in a bun with fried onions and sauerkraut) at a food kiosk, enjoying the new patterns in purses, trying to find scarf patterns we have not purchased before, looking at vintage fur coats, and even finding people walking along the streets whom we have known before. Rebecca saw a fellow pottery classmate. Wyona found Greg’s old boss, Cathy, sitting a few rows ahead of us at the ballet. And Francois and Heather, some of my first boarders, stopped me in the London airport to say they had been on the same plane as me, and would I like to come up to Cambridge and visit them on this trip.

Wyona and I had planned to see the ballet at the Palladium, danced to George Gershwin’s tunes, but the ticket sellers said they weren’t offering concessions. We tried Chicago, but Rebecca, who has not see that play yet, could not get back into town to be with us. That is how we ended up at Sadler Wells with the Matthew Bourne ballet production. But it was three times lucky for us. Wyona saw Bourne’s work last year, danced to Swan Lake. Kathy told us she had seen it the year before, danced to Carmen, but the theme was “car men”. Nice.

We made a side trip to Tesco’s before going to the theatre at Angel Street – it was that or go out for supper and the schnitzel was still with us – to we went to the theatre as bag ladies – ladies with bags full of Coke, wine gums, cookies and chocolates – a sure way to stay away when jet lagged.

A part has gone out on the furnace in Woodside Lane. There is no heat here and won’t be until someone can fix it on Monday. Today is Sunday. No hot water or warmth for a while, so we will be staying in our coats, sweaters and gloves and be wrapped in scarves. I always knew we could put them to some good use.

Alex is coming on the cruise with us. How cool is that!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

By the Balls

Taking Zach to the movies is kind of a crapshoot. Sometimes when he was younger we would get to the theater and he would refuse to step inside. Yesterday we went to see Chipwrecked, the new Chipmunk movie he's been asking to see since...well, since the first preview. It was part of our last hurrah before school began anew after the holiday break. During the first half of his movie-viewing experience, which included a preview for Zach's new must-see movie Madagascar 3, Zach was all giggles. But he got increasingly sober after the shipwreck that wasn't really a shipwreck. The second half of the film, or more like the latter three fourths, was long on forced plot and inter-chipmunk drama, short on slapstick. And then there were {insert dramatic pause} 'The Balls,' the arrangement of sports projectiles collected and painted with smiley faces by the island's 'crazy' lady (a sorry spin-off of 'Wilson' from The Castaway for you Tom Hanks fans). Though very much a side text, Zach became very concerned when (spoiler alert) it became clear that the balls might be left behind on the island as a volcano spews flames in the background. Zach and I must have exited and reentered the theater at least three times during the final 'action sequences' when the tension of potential monsters and anticipated abandonment became too great. By the end of the movie Zach was sobbing over what he was referring to as 'his lost balls.' (Yes, try explaining THAT to strangers in the lobby.)

The day after the movie viewing and Zach is still asking me to draw faces on the few pathetic pieces of orbital sports equipment we have laying around the house. In the meantime, I've been pondering, 'What was it about those balls that moved him so much?' Could he relate to the theme of being dismissed by others as unimportant? Is he unable to distinguish animate from inanimate? (What does that even mean in the context of cartoon chipmunks anyway?) Was the fact that the woman attributed animacy to the balls enough to engage his tender heart? No doubt many a person who knows of Zach's PDD diagnosis would want to consider his reaction an impairment of some variety. And I understand the deficit model of individual difference, perhaps more than ever. There are times I wish we could just watch a movie together without threat of 'unexpected behaviors' eliciting furtive glances, unspoken questions, and judgments from others. But there are increasingly times that I look at the predictable crowd of people around me and think how flat and colorless they all seem. With so much energy spent worrying about what they're supposed to be, they don't seem to have nearly enough time left over to consider who they are or who they want to be. It's in those moments, my quirky colorful son by my side, that I think maybe, just maybe, the two of us have got life by the balls after all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

We had a small party on New Year's Eve. Potluck food. Potluck BYOB. Find some friends to come who aren't already invited to someone else's party, since we didn't start organizing until late in the afternoon. There were no party favours. No paper hats. No toasts to the new year. No Auld Lang Synge. Yes to lots of food, guitar music and laughter.

The last person from our party left after 3 a.m. and the first of our household who had gone to other parties, arrived home at 4 a.m.

What I wanted to do was to make some resolutions.

This wasn't an off-the-cuff idea. I had been thinking about it for two or three days.

I could only come up with one idea. Try to follow through on all of the plans I made for the new year, previous to the turning of the last page of the calendar: walk every day, take some trips (to London, to the Mediterranean, to the Canary Islands), enjoy the summer at the Shuswap and make it to the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival with as many of my grandchildren as possible.

My fun for the year began at the Carter-Johnson blog today. Now there was a holiday to remember. Put one son in bed and try to entertain the other.

Happy New Year to all.